Today as the opening ceremonies for the XXX Olympiad took place in London, a cherished tradition was played out for an estimated 62,000 people in the Olympic Stadium and millions of spectators all over the world: the lighting of the Olympic Flame.
The Flame was lit on May 10 at the Temple of Hera in Olympia Greece, flown from Greece to the UK in a specially painted British Airways A319, and then carried by relay runners all over the British Isles over a 70 day period with 68 nighttime celebrations along the way. With its highly anticipated entry into the stadium, the Olympic Cauldron was ignited, signaling the start of the Games.
The tradition of the Olympic Torch relay comes not from antiquity, but rather was invented 76 years ago by Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda ministry for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and famously idealized and documented in Leni Riefenstahl’s 1938 film Olympia.
Here is a link to the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TI6yIo-tcc. The opening sequence including the lighting of the Cauldron runs about 23 minutes. It may seem a bit slow-paced to today’s eyes and ears, but it is worth watching because the so-called “Nazi Olympics” were the birthplace of today’s spectacle.
Yet it is ironic that while the torch relay has become a cherished institution in our modern Olympics, a composition by Richard Strauss (which was also performed at the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Olympiad) has become a taboo work due to its association with the Nazis.
In 1932, before the Nazis came to power, Richard Strauss was approached by the German Olympic Committee’s representative to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The German committee desired that an anthem be composed for the 1936 Summer Olympics to be held in Berlin. Early in 1933, Strauss agreed to compose an Olympic Hymn, with the condition that a suitable text be found to set to music.
A competition was held and resulted in 3,000 texts submitted. From fifty possibilities, four were sent to the composer. Strauss chose a poem written by Robert Lubahn, an unemployed actor at the time. Strauss said he was “extraordinarily satisfied” with it.Olympische Hymne
by Robert Lubahn Völker! Seid des Volkes Gäste, kommt durch’s offne Tor herein! Friede sei dem Völkerfeste! Ehre soll der Kampfspruch sein. Junge Kraft will Mut beweisen, heißes Spiel Olympia! deinen Glanz in Taten preisen, reines Ziel: Olympia. Vieler Länder Stolz und Blüte kam zum Kampfesfest herbei; alles Feuer das da glühte, schlägt zusammen hoch und frei. Kraft und Geist naht sich mit Zagen. Opfergang Olympia! Wer darf deinen Lorbeer tragen, Ruhmesklang: Olympia? Wie nun alle Herzenschlagen in erhobenem Verein, soll in Taten und in Sagen Rechtsgewalt [Eidestreu] das Höchste sein. Freudvoll sollen Meistersiegen, Siegesfest Olympia! Freude sei noch im Erliegen, Friedensfest: Olympia. Freudvoll sollen Meistersiegen, Siegesfest Olympia! Olympia! Olympia! Olympia! (rough translation) People! The people, our guests, are coming in through open gate!
Peace to the festivities! Honor will be the fight saying.
Youth wants to show courage, hot Olympic games!
Your glory in deeds be praised, pure goal: the Olympics. Pride and prosperity of many countries came forward to fight hard;
All the fire which burned there, along proposes high and free.
Strength and spirit approaches with trepidation. Sacrifice Olympia!
Who can wear your laurels, fame’s sound: Olympia? Now as heart beating in a raised club,
Right-violence should be the highest in deeds and in legends.
Joyfully will champions win, Olympic victory celebration!
Joy is still in a standstill of peace: the Olympics. Joyfully will champions win, Olympic victory celebration!
Olympia! Olympia! Olympia!
(The version sung at the 1936 opening ceremonies differs by only one word from Lubahn’s original submission. Lubahn’s word Rechtsgewalt in the fifth-to-the-last line was replaced by Goebbels, over Lubahn’s objection, with the word Eidestreu, because Goebbels found Lubahn’s usage ambiguous and possibly democratic.)
Composition of the Olympische Hymne was completed by Strauss on December 22, 1934. The principal music theme was derived from a major symphony Strauss planned but never finished.
During the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Strauss invited members of the IOC executive board to hear the hymn sung by an opera star from Munich. In February 1936, the IOC declared Strauss’s composition as the Olympic anthem “for all time,” but their declaration did not survive the war.
Hitler’s troops eventually retraced in reverse the route of the 1936 Olympic torch relay. The route from Olympia to Berlin passed through seven countries that would later be occupied by Germany and its allies. The Nazis’ doctrine of Aryan superiority, ably sanitized and put across in the 1936 Olympics, was exposed by subsequent events as the evil and murderous abomination that it is.
Strauss’ Olympische Hymne, though never a favorite of the composer, was consigned to the ash heap of history along with all the other detritus of the Nazis’ failed dreams.
I tried to find a recording of a modern performance of Strauss’ hymn and came up empty handed. So this 1936 recording will have to do.
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